Some People’s Use of Freedom of Speech is Harmful

Many people forget that freedom of thinking and speech, includes the freedom to have the wrong opinion and to make mistakes in appreciating events. This means that people are free to share their version of the facts, as interpreted by them. The ability to speak, write, and publish freely is incredibly important for dialogue and consensus, as well as assisting in the search for the truth.

Some freedom of speech, whether fake news or bad reviews, can be very harmful. As a society we must determine out how to suppress or hold people liable. For speech that is libelous and that causes a threat to individuals, for example a troll attack that encourage violence, there are already existing laws that can be used to go after the perpetrators. But speech that incite hate and violence is a new phenomenon.

If unchecked, fake news cultivates a culture of lying. If purveyors are allowed to get away with their lies, they embolden government officials to also lie in order to escape accountability, crush dissent, and commit illegal acts with impunity. If fake news is not challenged, it will create lynch mobs out of certain people, turning them into an army of character assassins, who can be unleashed, with just one meme, to destroy an idea, a person, or an institution. – U.S. Senator Grace Poe

The challenge for individuals is to identify the differences between an opinion and fake news. Tony La Viña has suggested that the valid test for taking action against fake news should continue to be the “classic clear and present danger test.” To determine this, ask important questions, such as: What is the harm created by fake news? How serious is that harm to society? What is the least intrusive (to personal freedom) approach to prevent that harm? We also have to ask, that while it is the role of each individual to vet sources and check facts, what is the role of the government in addressing the lack of news literacy?

Both news and opinion should be based on the truth, but there is usually more conflict in the latter precisely because of the fact that one’s opinion is based mainly on feelings and beliefs. While there might be only one set of facts that could be reported, there could be different interpretations of these same facts.

While not perfect, traditional media does employ common and accepted journalistic methods of fact checking and verification, editing of content and language, procedures for getting the other side of the story, allowing for publication of replies, and procedures for issuing erratums and apologies. Some newspapers even have ombudspersons and reader’s advocates that monitor the work of their reporters and writers. But, regardless of how objective a person may purport to be, she or he brings her own biases in writing and/or editing her or his stories.